Friday, May 20, 2022

The Positives & Negatives From UFC Vegas 51

On Saturday, the MMA leader returned to action for UFC Vegas 51, the promotion’s latest Fight Night card to be held at the Apex facility in Nevada.

The event certainly had a tough act to follow, with a much-discussed UFC 273 pay-per-view taking place just last week. That spectacle saw two title fights and a Fight of the Year contender between Khamzat Chimaev and Gilbert Burns take center stage.

While it didn’t possess the kind of name-value and stakes as we saw in Jacksonville on April 9, the UFC Vegas 51 card still boasted some exciting contenders, promising prospects, and debutants looking to make a name for themselves on the sport’s biggest stage.

As with any UFC card, this one had its ups and downs. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 51.

Negative – A Return To Silence

Okay, maybe silence is a bit dramatic…

But after such a long stretch of events inside the mellow surroundings within the UFC Apex, returning to the facility after three cards on the road did feel like a change of pace.

The Apex was a godsend during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While most sports shut down for lengthy periods, the UFC battled through with events behind closed doors in its own building. As well as granting fans the escape of watching MMA during what was undoubtedly a tough time for many, the ability to hold cards inside the Apex also allowed fighters to continue earning and providing for their families.

Like some, I enjoyed watching fights go down without fans. The unique sounds and enhanced perspective to strikes provided more of an inside look into bouts, something crowd noise often drowned out before.

But while I’ve long appreciated the different viewing experience that the Apex provides, nothing beats a full arena. If that wasn’t clear with last year’s PPVs, it certainly was after three back-to-back cards outside of Las Vegas.

Most notable was UFC London last month. Held in front of a raucous UK crowd, the card was one of the most memorable of the year so far, largely due to the presence of the fans. A couple more arena trips at UFC Columbus and UFC 273 firmly placed the Apex in the back of our minds.

Ultimately, I’ll always be grateful to watch a full card with some of the best athletes in the world. But now that arenas are open for business in a number of locations, the Apex no longer feels like a savior.

UFC Apex
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JUNE 06: In this handout provided by UFC, A general view of the Octagon prior to the start of the UFC 250 event at UFC APEX on June 06, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Positive – “The Mongolian Knight” Opens The Night In Style

What better way to start the night than a vicious first-round finish?

At UFC Vegas 51, that came courtesy of Alatengheili. In the first bout of the night, the Chinese fighter shared the Octagon with Kevin Croom in what was his fifth appearance on MMA’s biggest stage.

Having gone 2-1-1 prior to Saturday night, “The Mongolian Knight” was looking to make a statement, especially given that he fell to a draw last time out after being deducted a point for fence-grabbing.

In less than a minute, Alatengheili accomplished his goal. Against a tough customer in Croom, who was fighting in his 37th professional fight, the 30-year-old showed his power on the feet, rocking “Crash” with a hard overhand right. After unloading with some brutal follow-up shots, the contest came to an end with a memorable visual of Croom face-planting the canvas.

Negative – Cormier: “How Do You Score Leg Kicks?”

Anyone for a commentary ban when it comes to scoring fights?

It seems like not an event goes by where we’re not left discussing a bizarre conversation had between color commentators when it comes to scoring fights. At UFC Vegas 51, it came during the lightweight bout between Jordan Leavitt and Trey Ogden.

Daniel Cormier is a likable figure and a legend of the sport, but parts of his commentary leave a lot to be desired, and the same goes with Dominick Cruz. Both men boast incredible accomplishments in the sport and offer intriguing insight during bouts, especially when it comes to technique.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for scoring…

Considering he was watching mixed martial arts, it’s baffling that Cormier came to the conclusion leg kicks don’t score. As well as questioning how they can contribute to a round result, “DC” even went as far as to claim that the second round couldn’t go to Leavitt as the “majority” of his strikes were leg kicks.

We must have missed the part of the scoring criteria where it says “effective striking, aside from leg kicks…”

While that statement in itself is bizarre, it’s even more questionable when looking at the color of Ogden’s leg. This gripe is also without even addressing the comments made about control time.

Commentators have been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism in recent months, but it’s hard to defend in instances like this. The quality of UFC broadcasts would certainly increase if color commentators refrain from their apparent need to score each and every round.

Trey Ogden & Jordan Leavitt
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – APRIL 16: (R-L) Jordan Leavitt kicks Trey Ogden in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Negative – Confusion & Controversy

Nothing sucks the energy from a card quicker than a controversial ending. At UFC Vegas 51, we got exactly that courtesy of an illegal strike in the third round of the heavyweight contest between Martin Buday and Chris Barnett.

After his memorable walkout and crazy spinning wheel kick at UFC 268 last November, the anticipation was high for Barnett’s first appearance of 2022. To say it ended in an anticlimactic fashion would be an understatement.

In the third round, Buday, who was up two frames in the eyes of just about everyone, delivered an elbow that most agree landed to the back of Barnett’s head. Referee Dan Miragliotta decided it was unintentional, meaning that when the doctor concluded that “Beastboy” couldn’t continue, the fight went to a technical decision.

The level of subjectivity in this one is tough. On one hand, it’s hard to determine where the “unintentional” conclusion comes from. Barnett was turned away from Buday, who appeared to throw a measured and planned elbow to the back of the head, which was essentially the only part of Barnett’s head open to strike. On the other side, some will perhaps suggest the Slovakian saw an opening to land a clean strike but simply misjudged, making the illegal nature of the elbow unintentional.

Ultimately, even if Buday intended to land it legally, should that prevent punishment? I’m not so sure. Given how subjective intent is (no one knows what Buday was thinking), I don’t see how it can be judged as the be-all and end-all when it comes to the result.

If a fighter is deemed unable to continue due to an illegal strike from his opponent, the only person losing out should be the fighter at fault.

Martin Buday, Chris Barnett
Martin Buday, Chris Barnett (Image Credits: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Negative – Make It Make Sense…

As if by magic, the grey area surrounding illegal shots was hammered home the very next fight.

In the second round of the lightweight contest between Rafa Garcia and Jesse Ronson, the American-born Mexican delivered an illegal knee to the Canadian, who had his right knee grounded, for which referee Mark Smith deducted a point for.

First things first, I don’t see how that can be deemed any more or less intentional than Buday’s strike, for which no point or punishment was applied. The question is, had Garcia controlled the opening two rounds and landed the illegal knee in the third, would he have faced no punishment and been awarded the technical decision, rather than the point deduction he got in the first?

It’s a dangerous precedent to set. The decision of Miragliotta in the Buday vs. Barnett fight essentially suggests that fighters can bag an early win as long as they can convince the official that their illegal strike was unintentional.

This uncertainty and subjectivity need tightening.

Positive – Klose Returns A Year After Stephens Shove

Whatever the result, seeing UFC lightweight Drakkar Klose return to the Octagon was always going to be a positive.

At UFC Vegas 51, Klose made the walk for the first time since a 2020 knockout loss to Beneil Dariush. Had things gone to plan, the 34-year-old’s layoff would have ended last April against Jeremy Stephens. That came to a crashing halt at the hands of “Lil Heathen” a day before they were set to share the cage last April.

Unable to control himself during the face-off, Stephens delivered a push to Klose that would prove to be more damaging than anyone initially imagined. During an appearance on BJPenn.com’s Just Scrap Radio last week, Klose described numbness in his limbs and a debilitating headache.

Having suffered two herniated discs, Klose spent another year on the sidelines, while an unpunished Stephens was in action just three months later. Despite returning on Saturday, Klose believes surgery will eventually become inevitable if he wants to return to 100% health.

To see him back in action after having a year of his career taken away was certainly a positive of UFC Vegas 51, as was his incredibly-impressive performance en route to a second-round TKO.

Positive – Clark Rebounds With Some Violence

In the featured preliminary bout of UFC Vegas 51, longtime light heavyweight Devin Clark competed in a short-notice heavyweight debut against William Knight.

In his last outing, scheduled for 205 pounds, “Knightmare” had a mammoth weight miss, turning his bout with Maxim Grishin into a heavyweight contest. Despite his previous experience in the heavier weight class, as well as near-30-pound weight advantage, Knight was handed a second consecutive loss courtesy of a man looking to rebound from a two-fight skid of his own.

Having been handed a main event defeat against Anthony Smith and his teeth badly messed up against Ion Cuțelaba, Clark needed a big performance to re-enter the win column and avoid a third straight setback.

In the third round, a brutal left hook and some emphatic follow-up shots secured the victory for “Brown Bear.” After some controversy earlier in the night, this was certainly a positive way to close out the prelims.

Negative – Way To Dampen An Impressive Win…

Is there a worse way to damage an impressive victory than giving a shoutout to a man believed to “run the day-to-day operations” of the Kinahan Organized Crime Group?

In the UFC Vegas 51 main card opener, Mounir Lazzez returned for the first time since January 2020. Against debutant Ange Loosa, “The Sniper” impressed across three rounds, using his striking prowess to secure a comfortable decision.

As a relatively normal post-fight interview looked set to come to a close, it seemed nothing untoward was on the horizon. But when MTK Global-associated Lazzez pulled the mic back for some thank yous, who’d have thought reputed Irish gang boss Daniel Kinahan would be getting some appreciation?

To say it’s not a good look to thank a man whom the United States government is chasing, and even offering $5 million for any information that could lead to his conviction or the disruption of his organization, would be an understatement.

‘Thanks to the suspected figurehead of a $1.1 billion drugs and weapons cartel’. How heartwarming. Lazzez’s team’s attempts to push past the topic at the post-fight press conference perhaps says it all.

You should have kept a firmer grip on the mic Cormier…

Positive – A Deserved Sendoff

Earlier in the week, it was confirmed that bantamweight veteran Marlon Moraes had retired from active competition. The Brazilian’s decision to hang up his gloves came a month after his knockout loss to Song Yadong at UFC Vegas 50, a defeat that marked his fourth consecutive setback.

While that losing streak and the decline he experienced late on in his career has had many acknowledging that the retirement is likely the right choice, the sport has certainly lost a great fighter and a 135-pound great.

With that in mind, it was nice to see Moraes, a former WSOF champion and UFC title challenger, given the sendoff he deserved in the form of a video package on the UFC Vegas 51 main card broadcast.

Happy retirement Marlon!

Positive – Nasty In The Clinch

Portugal’s Andre Fialho impressed in defeat on his promotional debut versus Michel Pereira at UFC 270. With that in mind and with his opponent being another exciting prospect in Miguel Baeza, many had pointed to Fialho’s sophomore UFC clash as one to keep an eye on. For as long as it lasted, it was enthralling and technical on the feet.

At 10-0 entering 2021, Baeza was one of the most highly-touted up-and-comers in the UFC. But after back-to-back losses, “Caramel Thunder” was in desperate need of a rebound on Saturday. Unfortunately for him, Fialho wasn’t there to boost Baeza’s record.

Proving the clinch isn’t a safe place, Fialho rocked Baeza with some brutal uppercuts. While some disputed the finish, which came as Baeza grabbed a leg, the 29-year-old’s staggered return to his feet proved Mark Smith’s decision to step in was a good one.

At 28 years of age, the UFC’s first Portuguese-born fighter is one to keep an eye on.

Negative – Another One…

Caio Borralho and Gadzhi Omargadzhiev both graduated to the UFC through Dana White’s Contender Series in 2021. By being matched up for their Octagon debuts, one exciting up-and-comer was facing an immediate stall.

On the feet and on the ground, Borralho was sizable leaps ahead. From his early reversal on the mat, his impressive takedown, and his swift body-lock switches to his slick striking and flying knees, “The Natural” impressed in all areas.

Unfortunately, he dampened his arrival with an illegal knee in the third round, bringing us the second technical decision of the night. Once again, the main negative here is inconsistency. Miragliotta didn’t hesitate to take a point away from Borralho but didn’t do the same for Buday earlier in the night.

The decision to take the fight to the scorecards was also debatable. There’s no doubt that Omargadzhiev had his hand down, but even after landing it, the Brazilian protested, suggesting it was “just the tip” of the Russian’s fingers on the mat. Seeing as that would still be illegal, shouldn’t we have seen a disqualification for an intentional illegal blow?

The word “messy” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Positive – An Entertaining Main Event

This was certainly an up-and-down card, but it ended as we always want MMA cards to—with an entertaining, high-stakes headliner.

Vicente Luque and Belal Muhammad left everything in the Octagon, vying for a place in the welterweight championship picture. While Khamzat Chimaev broke into the group of elites and staked his claim for a title shot last weekend, at UFC Vegas 51, it was the turn of Muhammad.

Having taken the opening two frames, Muhammad had to fight through some adversity in the third. After bouncing back impressively in the championship rounds, the 33-year-old extended his unbeaten run to eight with victory on the scorecards and threw his name into the hat for a shot at Kamaru Usman’s gold.

Remember the name.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 51?

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